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The Working White House: A Mirror - The 20th Century

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Twentieth-century historical forces and social movements left their marks on the working White House. In 1900, nearly 87,000 inhabitants (almost a third of the population) of Washington, D.C., were black, forming the largest urban community of African Americans anywhere in the United States. However, racial segregation, as a formal policy, was endorsed and enforced in the Taft White House (1909-13), and remained an accepted household management practice for many decades.

World Wars I and II depleted the White House residence staff as workers were called up for military service. The Great Depression meant tight wages, and war rationing affected the types of meals prepared for the First Family. Although a moratorium on entertaining from 1941 to 1946 curtailed certain employee tasks, workers continued to play a vital role in the operations of the White House.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, widely known for her interest in labor issues and human rights efforts, made it a point to seek the advice and counsel of White House workers during the Franklin Roosevelt administration. As a result, many White House workers encountered improved working conditions and more enlightened attitudes towards household staff in general, and African Americans in particular.